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3.21.2006

Temperance Movement 

It's easy and fun to sit back and bemoan the Giants' lack of success in developing homegrown ballplayers. They've had fair success in bringing along pitchers, but as we all know, their track record with position players is abysmal, illustrated by these two questions:

Without peeking, can anyone name the last non-pitching Giant to win Rookie of the Year?

How about the last homegrown non-pitching Giant to make the All-Star team while still with San Francisco?

It's also easy and fun to get excited about the current crop of minor leaguers and envision a team in 2007 or 2008 that was mostly farm-raised on the fields of Augusta, Ga., San Jose, Norwich, Conn, and Fresno.

Let's not get too giddy. As Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus reminded us in yesterday's column, the average farm system, frozen in time at any given moment, will likely yield eight major leaguers: two starting position players, two bench warmers, two starting pitchers and two relievers. Assuming that all but the best relievers are failed starters, that makes four valuable players out of roughly 150-plus per system. That's less than 3%.

That's an average, mind you, and Goldstein admits the system he uses could stand a lot of refinement. But his point is well taken:

One of the key things I believe nearly all prospect rankers have failed to do, however, is to manage expectations. Many fans tend to believe that when they look at a top 10 list, they are looking at 10 future big league players, or even future stars. Although it's no fault of the rankers, the reality couldn't be further from the truth.

In other words, most of the junior Giants we're excited about now -- Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz, Jonathan Sanchez, Marcus Sanders, Freddie Lewis, Merkin Valdez, Eddie Martinez-Esteve, Dan Ortmeier, and so on -- will never be major leaguers for more than a few minutes.

This is why, in general, Brian Sabean's strategy of preferring veteran major leaguers to untested kids makes some sense. A player who has proven he can succeed at the major league level has already passed the test.

Statheads sneer at the phrase "proven veteran," and beyond the sheer yawn-factor of finding a Shawon Dunston, Jose Vizcaino or Jeromy Burnitz on one's team yet again, the strategy has obvious limits: cost is one factor, age/injury another.

But when most minor league "stars" are probably destined to become, at best, Michael Tucker, sometimes it makes more sense to go hire Michael Tucker. A team full of Michael Tuckers is not a good thing, of course, and it often seems that Sabean takes the "A Tucker in the hand is worth two on the farm" theory way too far, but let's not jump too far down his throat while penciling in Dan Ortmeier as the Giants starting right fielder in 2008.

If Goldstein's Maxim -- 4 starting major leaguers per farm system -- has any validity, how can we assess the Giants' system?

Before I answer that, let's look at the column Goldstein wrote today. He warns that hitting statistics in the hitter-friendly California League are wildly inflated.

It's especially misleading to assess a player's Cal League stats when he makes the jump from the low-A Midwest League, a pitchers' league. Goldstein doesn't include the San Jose Giants in his calculations because the Giants' low-A affiliate plays in the South Atlantic League, but his warning is nonetheless instructive for Giants fans: Don't put too much stock into hitters who join the Cal League and start mashing the ball.

In other words, before we get too excited about Schierholtz, EME and Ishikawa in particular -- all of whom had good-to-excellent years in San Jose last year -- let's see how they handle the next level.

If you had to pick four minor-league Giants as future starters -- two position players, two pitchers -- who would they be, and why? (Sorry, Cain and Hennessey don't count.)

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